Current science provides many examples of why keystone predators, such as the wolf, are essential for ecosystem health. Dr. Cristina Eisenberg will explore the rich body of science, beginning with Aldo Leopold’s and Joseph Grinnell’s work in the 1920s, that elucidates the powerful link between wolves and whole food webs and the many ecological benefits predators convey. This science has helped wolves and other predators to be accepted by society and return to North American landscapes from which they long had been missing. Dr. Eisenberg will read from her book, The Carnivore Way: Coexisting with and Conserving North America’s Predators and share stories from her years afield studying wolves. She will share her insights on next steps in conserving and coexisting with wolves and other large predators in America, and her thoughts on the ecological role they could play in places like the Northeast.
Following Dr. Eisenberg’s talk, she will join an expert panel to attendees in an interactive discussion about New York’s natural heritage and the impacts of a wilder Northeast.
From: Science Codex, June 16, 2014
CORVALLIS, Ore. – Scientists have used coyote and red fox fur trapping records across North America to document how the presence of wolves influences the balance of smaller predators further down the food chain.
From Alaska and Yukon to Nova Scotia and Maine, the researchers have demonstrated that a "wolf effect" exists, favoring red foxes where wolves are present and coyotes where wolves are absent.
This effect requires that enough wolves be present to suppress coyotes over a wide area. Fur trapping records from Saskatchewan and Manitoba reveal that where wolves are absent in the southern agricultural regions of each province, coyotes outnumber foxes on average by 3-to-1. However, where wolves are abundant in the north, the balance swings dramatically in favor of foxes on average by 4-to-1 and at an extreme of 500-to-1 at one site.
In between is a 200-kilometer (124-mile) transition zone where too few wolves are present to tip the balance between coyotes and foxes.
The results of the study by Thomas Newsome and William Ripple in the Oregon State University Department of Forest Ecosystems and Society were published today in the Journal of Animal Ecology by the British Ecological Society.
"As wolves were extirpated across the southern half of North America, coyotes dramatically expanded their range," said Newsome, a post-doctoral researcher at Oregon State. "They were historically located in the middle and western United States, but they dispersed all the way to Alaska in the early 1900s and to New Brunswick and Maine by the 1970s."
"So essentially coyotes have been dispersing into wolf and red-fox range in the north but also into areas where wolves are absent but red fox are present in the East," Newsome added.
Newsome came to the United States on a Fulbright scholarship from Australia where he earned a Ph.D. from the University of Sydney and specialized in the study of dingoes – that continent's top predator. There's a debate among Australians, he said, about the potential role of dingoes in suppressing introduced pests that have already decimated wildlife there.
"Over the last 200 years, Australia has had the highest extinction rate in the world," Newsome said. "The debate is about whether the dingo can provide positive ecological benefits. Where dingoes have been removed, the impacts of introduced red foxes and feral cats have been quite severe on native fauna."
Dingoes are managed as a pest in New South Wales, the country's most populous state. To reduce dingo predation in the livestock industry, Australia also maintains the world's longest fence, which runs for 5,500 kilometers (3,400 miles) in an attempt to exclude dingoes from almost a quarter of the continent.
In North America, the effect of wolves on coyotes and red foxes provides a natural case study that can be instructive for Australians. "Australians can learn a lot from how wolves are managed in North America, and Americans can learn from the ecological role of the dingo," Newsome said.
As coyotes have expanded in North America, they have become a major cause of concern for the livestock industry. In the United States in 2004, researchers estimated annual losses due to coyote predation on sheep and cattle at $40 million. To reduce those damages, the Wildlife Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture has a program to reduce coyote numbers, an effort that has drawn criticism from conservation groups.
In reviewing the fur trapping data from two U.S. and six Canadian jurisdictions, Newsome and Ripple eliminated potential sources of bias such as records from fur farms that raise foxes. The fur prices of coyotes and red foxes are also strongly correlated, and the two species occupy much of the same types of habitat, so they are equally likely to be targeted and caught in hunters' traps.
"This study gives us a whole other avenue to understand the ecological effects of wolves on landscapes and animal communities," said Ripple. He has studied the influence of carnivores on their prey — such as deer and elk — and on vegetation from aspen trees to willows. He and his colleagues have shown that the removal of top predators can cause dramatic shifts within ecosystems.
Wolves are naturally recolonizing many areas of the United States following their reintroduction into Yellowstone National Park and surrounding areas in 1995. Scientists are studying wolf interactions with other species, and in particular, there is interest in determining whether recolonizing wolves will suppress coyote populations and have cascading effects on red foxes and other species.
From the paper by Newsome and Ripple:
A continental scale trophic cascade from wolves through coyotes to foxes
Making Room For Predators
May 31, 2014
By Bennett Hall
One of the most enduring symbols of wild America, the wolf, is coming back across the West after being virtually eliminated from the lower 48 states.
Oregon State University ecologist Cristina Eisenberg believes that wolves and other large carnivores can continue to recolonize large parts of their historic range with a little help from humans.
She also believes that, without our assistance, some of North America’s most magnificent wild creatures could disappear forever.
Eisenberg’s new book from Island Press, “The Carnivore Way: Coexisting With and Conserving North America’s Predators,” argues that one of the keys to their survival is the ability to move across the landscape, both to respond to changing environmental conditions and to maintain genetic connections between isolated populations.
The book surveys the conservation status of six imperiled carnivore species — wolves, grizzly bears, lynx, wolverines, cougars and jaguars — and explores the beneficial influences these apex predators have on the ecosystems they inhabit, often helping to restore balance by keeping deer, elk and other herbivores in check. (Eisenberg’s work, along with that of pioneering colleagues such as William Ripple and Robert Beschta, is helping put OSU on the map in the emerging field of trophic cascades research.)
It also makes the case for a continental-scale conservation initiative that would make it easier for big predators to move up and down the Rocky Mountain region from Mexico to Alaska, the mega-corridor she calls the Carnivore Way.
Eisenberg points to the success of the gray wolf recovery effort in the northern Rockies as evidence that carnivore recovery is possible. Since their reintroduction in the mid-1990s, wolf numbers in the region soared to around 1,700. Many packs have recolonized territory on their own through natural dispersal, including eight established packs in Eastern Oregon.
Oregon’s famous “wandering wolf,” dubbed OR-7 by wildlife managers, is a perfect example, recently finding a mate and establishing a territory near the California border in an area that hadn’t seen a wolf in decades.
“That wolf is a poster wolf,” Eisenberg said. “Right now he’s having a pretty happy ending.”
But that story is still being written and could change in a hurry, she warned.
With the lifting of federal protections for the gray wolf, hunting has made major inroads in some areas, threatening to reverse some of the animal’s hard-won progress in the contiguous United States.
“I feels like we’re in the process of undoing that and getting wolves to the lowest possible number,” Eisenberg said. “Those numbers are not enough to ensure the survival of the species.”
She favors an approach that could make it easier for wolves, bears and other large carnivores to coexist with people in an increasingly human-dominated landscape.
That doesn’t necessarily mean setting aside more land in nature preserves. Rather, it means things like building crossing structures to let wildlife get over or under major highways, establishing regional recovery zones where conservation is a major policy focus, and creating cross-border legal frameworks to coordinate planning efforts among states, provinces and nations.
It also means taking the concerns of people into account.
“I come from a ranching background and a hunting background, so I’m a real pragmatist when it comes to wolf conservation,” Eisenberg said. “You have to consider human needs.”
And it has to be more than simply lending a sympathetic ear.
She cites Oregon’s wolf management plan as an example. Arrived at through a highly collaborative process that included extensive input from ranchers, it includes financial assistance for non-lethal deterrents and the promise of a heads-up from wildlife managers when wolves are in their area.
“It’s not a perfect plan, but it’s one of the best,” Eisenberg said. “Wolves are going to thrive in Oregon if we let them.”
And if it can work here, it can work elsewhere. People, she believes, can find all sorts of new and innovative ways to help wolves and other big predators throughout the Carnivore Way — if that’s what we really want to do.
“I believe we can,” Eisenberg said. “But we need to decide as a society, on a regional basis, whether that’s a priority or not.”
By KATE JOHNSTON
For the Concord Monitor
My Turn: Wilderness Act Represents Lessons Learned
Published: Saturday, May 24, 2014
This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act, a conservation bill that created the National Wilderness Preservation System, which protects more than 100 million acres of American wild land.
New Hampshire, though a small state (9,279 square miles), has six protected wilderness areas: the 29,000-acre Presidential Range/Dry River Wilderness, the 5,552-acre Great Gulf Wilderness, the 45,000-acre Pemigewasset Wilderness, the 35,800-acre Sandwich Range Wilderness, the 14,000-acre Caribou-Speckled Mountain Wilderness, and the 23,700-acre Wild River Wilderness.
Within these areas, animals and plants thrive, untainted. No roads, vehicles, permanent structures are allowed in any of the protected areas. Invasive activities such as logging or mining are not permitted. People can camp, hike and fish, but only according to strict regulations.
A visitor to these areas might find pine martens or peregrine falcons or the endangered plant called three birds orchid, species you won’t generally find in places overrun with humans, species that used to be bountiful 400 years ago, when wolves also roamed freely throughout this state.
These protected areas reflect a once upon a time.
Up until the 1600s, when settlers came to this country, nature managed itself just fine. In New Hampshire, wolves and mountain lions (or Eastern cougars) were the top predators and kept other wildlife populations in check, particularly deer and moose. They only preyed on what they needed to survive, usually killing the vulnerable individuals. This method is known as “culling,” and it helps keep the entire ecosystem in balance.
Dense forests once flourished across the landscape, harboring New England cottontails and great horned owls. Craggy mountains provided lush habitat for black bear and bald eagles. Bodies of water were clean and clear, chock full of aquatic life like American brook lamprey and spotted turtles that sustained golden eagles, osprey and raccoons. Scavengers such as turkey vultures, foxes and crows ate what the predators didn’t.
These links in the ecosystem are crucial. Top predators keep populations of grazing animals at healthy and manageable levels. This means that vegetation is not at risk for overbrowsing. Plentiful shrubbery and trees provide shelter and food for smaller animals and birds. One missing link can cause nature’s system to collapse.
The face of wilderness changed when Europeans came to settle the land. They ravaged North America’s wild lands to the point where multiple species became endangered or extinct.
Immediately, they saw large predators like wolves and mountain lions as a threat. Incorrectly assuming that these predators were dangerous to humans, they killed them on sight. Settlers leveled forests and cleared out low vegetation, taking over the habitat that wolves and mountain lions required for survival.
People recklessly hunted white-tailed deer for food, decimating the deer population, yet another blow to wolves and mountain lions. When the predators turned to livestock because deer were scarce, people killed them for that, too.
Today, there are no known breeding populations of wolves or mountain lions in New Hampshire. The gray wolf is on the endangered list, and there hasn’t been a confirmed mountain lion sighting in more than 140 years. The Eastern cougar (a subspecies of cougar) once lived in every eastern state in a variety of habitats. It is now considered extinct, and the endangered Florida panther is the only breeding population of cougar east of the Mississippi. The decimation of these predators is a travesty due to habitat loss, limited prey and persecution.
Protecting the wolf and mountain lion in New Hampshire has been a long, heated and complicated battle. With 80 percent of the state forested, New Hampshire’s habitat is ideal for wolves and mountain lions, though not at the same historical levels. Wolf packs need a tremendous amount of space for hunting, usually about 50 to 100 square miles.
Mountain lions, on the other hand, are loners but roam long distances to hunt. Their ranges can vary from 10 square miles to 370 square miles.
While the Wilderness Act doesn’t specifically protect these two top predators, it does protect habitat in which they could live if given the chance. As habitat loss is one of the major reasons large predators have disappeared from New Hampshire, the thousands of acres that can’t be abused by people are a gift to wolves, mountain lions and threatened species in particular and to wildlife in general. The protected wilderness areas combined with plentiful food sources and regulated hunting could indeed result in both predators making a comeback.
As we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act, consider how much we are protecting: more than 750 wilderness areas; 109,511,966 million acres; wilderness areas in all but six U.S. states; and rare species that can’t survive in areas populated by humans. Such statistics can’t fix the damage of the past four centuries, but they are indicators of lessons learned.
The Wilderness Act gives Americans the chance to bring back some of what we chased away with the promise of treating it better this time around.
(Kate Johnston is a freelance writer who lives in Dover.)
In a 2012 study, "Deer, predators, and the emergence of Lyme disease," UC Santa Cruz researchers suggest continued increase of Lyme disease in the United States, once linked to a recovering deer population, may instead be explained by a decline of small-mammal hosts like the red fox.
The team's findings, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, reveal that although deer populations have stabilized, Lyme disease has increased across the northeastern and midwestern United States over the past three decades. The increase coincides with shrinking populations of the red fox, which feeds on small mammals, such as white-footed mice, short-tailed shrews, and Eastern chipmunks, all of which transmit Lyme disease bacteria to ticks.